Think Indian hotels and you can think of grand bargains or, on the other end of the scale, welcoming guesthouses. For many years, when it came to the hotel scene in the Asian country, there wasn’t much to offer a discerning young traveler. In the 90s, however, Park hotels, under the leadership of the new president Priya Paul (who took over the band at the age of 24, after his father’s death) has started to shake things up. This year, the brand celebrates its 50e anniversary and is famous as the hotel group responsible for introducing the idea of “boutique” hotels to India, while being widely regarded as a pioneer of design hotels in the country.
It all started in 1967, when the group’s first hotel opened on trendy Park Street in Calcutta. The constantly changing street was also the inspiration behind the name and character of the company. The following year, a hotel by the sea Visakhapatnam Park became the group’s second hotel and the first luxury hotel in the Andhra Pradesh region of southern India.
Fast forward 50 years, and the properties today are renowned for their character and fun interiors, lively bars and inventive restaurants. Of THE Goa Parkthe beachfront living concept of (which includes an outdoor rooftop lounge, poolside cabanas, and white-on-white decor in the Deluxe Rooms) – to perfection THE Chennai Park – member of Design Hotels, it is carved out of the historic Gemini Film Studios. In addition to a casual Italian restaurant with its own pasta bar, guests can take advantage of a screening room for private movie nights and The Box – an in-house boutique selling select household items.
With eight hotels in total belonging to THE Park collection, six are located in major Indian cities (Delhi, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai) and two are located in the resort destinations of Goa and Visakhapatnam. This year sees the opening of the ninth hotel in the park – Bombay Park in the Juhu district of the city. In addition, the brand is launching a concept of mid-range design hotel, called Zone By THE Park, with 17 properties in the pipeline slated to open over the next three years.
The woman in charge Priya Paul is responsible for the overall vision of the company and has a special hand in their design philosophy – with all properties decorated with around 3,000 works of art from her personal collection. Nicknamed the ‘Ian Schrager of India’, Priya is widely recognized as one of the world’s most innovative hoteliers and has been repeatedly named Businessperson of the Year by India’s economic timesa and is classified by Forbes among India’s 50 most influential businesswomen.
In addition to the hotel business, Priya and her siblings own and operate the Apeejay Surrendra Group, one of India’s oldest and largest business conglomerates, employing over 43,000 people, and which includes Typhoo Tea, shipping, real estate, retail and finance activities under its umbrella.
Here I tell Priya about her career and tell her about her travel inspiration:
As your business turns 50e anniversary, what are you most proud of?
I would say I received the Padma shri in 2012, one of the highest civilian honors in India, for his contribution to commerce and industry. It was recognition not only of my vision, but of what our entire team has accomplished. We have taken the path of creating a unique collection of designer and boutique hotels and this national award validates our efforts.
Was it difficult to take over the business at 24?
Of course, there were both professional and personal challenges (my father passed away suddenly), but I was guided by my uncle, mother, brother and sister and we worked together to grow the business. . When it comes to hotels, we’ve repositioned and renovated, working through the 90s to make the company the success it is today. We have rebuilt all the processes in the hotels, creating a new vision and building “Anything But Ordinary” places.
What advice would you give to female travel entrepreneurs?
My advice to all entrepreneurs, regardless of gender or industry, is to believe in their ideas and passions and keep working to make their business a success. To undertake is to take risks and sometimes to fail. And these lessons are important.
THE Park Hotels have changed the face of designer hotels in India, was that intentional?
I knew the look and feel of hotels in India in the 1990s weren’t spaces I wanted to be in. Creating hotels full of character, with unique architecture, design and art, as well as references to contemporary culture, is an integral part of THE Park. Hotels and our leadership.
What are your five “musts” in a hotel?
- Blackout blinds that really work.
- Beautiful flowers.
- Attentive and friendly staff who know the area.
- Interesting design.
- Good food and drinks.
How involved are you in the design ethics of THE Park Hotels?
I am deeply involved in the design ethics of THE Park Hotels. I don’t have a distinctive style, but I love the interesting architecture, design, furniture and art, working with the two world names, as well as championing local artisans. There is such a wealth of incredible artisans in India, bringing centuries-old traditions to life in a contemporary way. It is a very exciting time for Indian design as more and more names make their mark on the international scene. Two examples are Gunjan Gupta and Jean-François Lesage; with whom we collaborated.
Where is your favorite place to relax in India and why?
Goa. There are so many different vibes there and I keep discovering new things with every visit. I find the place incredibly relaxing.
What was the inspiration behind a mid-range Zone by THE Park concept?
We have identified a gap in the design and price conscious hotel market; properties that have the comforts and facilities of an upscale hotel but are present in fast growing Indian cities. We wanted to raise the bar for hotel infrastructure in the second and third tier hubs, attracting both the growing number of domestic travelers and foreign visitors.
What inspires you when it comes to traveling on a personal level?
Everything from art, architecture, history, food, design and natural beauty. I love the varied influences that travel gives you and I have always enjoyed immersing yourself in them.
How do you stay on top of new trends and make sure your hotels are in top form?
By traveling, reading and talking to people. And also by constantly reinventing itself. THE Park Hotels slogan is “Anything But Ordinary”, which is why we are always looking for ways to enhance the guest experience and create truly memorable stays.
What is your favorite THE Park hotel and why?
Although it is difficult to choose a hotel as the “best”, Hyderabad Park is a particularly magnificent hotel, widely regarded as having set the bar for modern Indian hotel design. The 267-room hotel, designed by more than 20 famous Indian and international designers, is inspired by the decors and metalwork of the Nizam’s jewelry collection (one of the most valuable jewelry collections in the world). The end result is a modern interpretation of the palace of a Nizam, the famous former rulers of Hyderabad, who were renowned for their wealth and patronage of the arts.
Outside of India, what is your favorite place to vacation or visit? What is your favorite place for art?
For vacation, Morocco is my favorite place right now to relax outside of India. For art, I would say London, Paris or New York.
Where are you hanging out
Mumbai is at the forefront of my concerns right now as we will be opening a hotel there soon. So for art galleries I would visit Sakshi and Project 88. For shopping I always find something at Bombay Electric and Ensemble and when it comes to food you can’t beat Trishna for her fruit. sea.
What’s the next step for you and the band?
For THE Park Hotels, we will launch a hotel in Bombay, as well as a heritage asset to Chettinad over the next 12 months, and more projects will be announced soon. Zone By THE Park is also booming: there are 17 hotels slated to open across India by 2020, with seven by the end of 2017.
For more information visit: theparkhotels.com